The first time I travelled without my kids was at age 44 to attend graduate school. I last travelled alone when I was in my 20s, before they were born. I walked through Murtala Muhammed Airport, marvelling at how strange and lonely it felt to be without them.
Before my flight, I stopped at the KFC by the boarding gates and ordered a piece of chicken, as is my habit. It seemed odd when a man sat down at my table, directly across from me in the empty restaurant. He bit into a drumstick while maintaining deep eye contact.
He licked and sucked the meat off the leg, moaning. Did he really love chicken? I was aghast. Why was he eating in such a sensual manner? Then he winked. WAIT, WAS HE FLIRTING WITH ME? Didn’t he realise I was no longer a young woman, that I had passed into a different stage? As he crunched and tongued marrow out of the bone, leering, my paralysis broke and I sped off, my thigh uneaten.
When I boarded the plane, my assigned seat was right next to the erotic-chicken-eating man. He saw me and his face lit up. I walked right past him and took a free seat by the toilet.
There’s a funny thing that happens as you hurtle through different phases of life. First, you’re a kid and you only notice other kids. You see children zooming by in station wagons, their faces pressed against rear windows. You see little kids like yourself sitting across from you on the train or the bus. You study them, and they study you. You’re curious about the clothes they wear, the watches they have, their shoes, everything, really.
Then you’re a bit older. The little kids become invisible because you’re busy noticing teenagers. When you grow a little more, adolescents and elderly people seem to fade away. You see young adults wherever you look. When you fall in love, the couples around you suddenly come into striking relief. There they are, holding hands, staring soulfully into each other’s eyes. Were they always there? Why did you never notice?
Then you have kids and you’re suddenly alive to all the other parents with babies. You learn where playgrounds, parks and the best deals on diapers are.
When they become adults and it is just you and your spouse in a quiet house, all this knowledge fades away. You know old people stuff, I guess. I’m not sure what that entails because I’m not there yet. I’m assuming in another twenty years, I’ll know things like where to get a reinforced bra because my breasts will dangle to the ground.
I cared about my appearance when I was younger. There was a time when I carefully considered how my body looked in my trousers, for example. Now I just feel grateful buttons can fasten over my middle-aged pudge. I will wear anything and not think about how shabby I appear.
My beauty and fashion knowledge has eroded. I don’t have the energy to worry about how I look each day. I am working, writing my dissertation and raising three children. Doing all this plus maintaining a rigorous napping and potato chip eating schedule is not easy.
I was hoping when I got older, everyone else would have the courtesy to wither away as well, so as not to make me feel bad. I don’t appreciate young women who prance around with taut skin and slim bellies. How dare they look ravishing as I approach menopause? The younger generation clearly lacks compassion.
Hindus believe the last stage of life is Sannyasa, a time of renouncing material possessions and focusing on meditation and peace. It’s time for my final journey, I’ve decided, my metaphorical walk into the woods to die. I’m leaving fashion and beauty behind for the young. I’m looking ahead to the future, to growing old with my old husband, while I wear whatever I pull out of my closet first and enjoy my fried chicken unmolested.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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